Throughout “Game of Thrones,” audiences have seen the Order of the Maesters take part in a huge number of important moments. With Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) at the Citadel in Oldtown to receive training to replace Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) at Castle Black, we’ll likely be seeing more of the Maesters in Season 7 than ever before.
Though we’ve seen a lot of Maesters do a lot of things over the course of six seasons of “Game of Thrones,” the show has never really given us a great explanation for what all their duties are and, well, why they’re even needed. That has not, to be clear, a flaw in the show — there’s just a lot going on with the Maesters that you probably wouldn’t have picked up just from watch. So let’s dive in.
The Maesters are an order of scholars, healers and scientists that functions not all that much unlike the Night’s Watch of the Wall. The group’s headquarters, and where maesters are trained, is the Citadel, which is located in Oldtown in Westeros. There, the Maesters have a massive library and a huge store of knowledge dating back thousands of years.
Like the Night’s Watch, the Maesters are an all-male organization that takes sacred vows to give up their lands and family titles when they join the order. They also take an oath of celibacy and swear to father no children. Notable Maesters on the show so far include Maester Aemon, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter), who served at Winterfell, Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) in King’s Landing, and Qyburn (Anton Lesser), a former Maester who was cast out for his experiments but who still, in his own way, does a lot of the normal Maester stuff.
With Pycell dead now, you might think that Qyburn would replace him as Grand Maester considering how much Cersei seems to like him. However, the title of Grand Maester can only be granted by the Order leadership, called the Conclave, because the Grand Maester serves as the Order’s liaison to the Iron Throne.
here’s little reason to think the Conclave would choose Qyburn for that role because he has no official standing with the Maesters, having been stripped of his chain. That said, it will be interesting to see what happens if and when the Order tries to send a new Grand Maester to King’s Landing, given Qyburn’s current status as Hand of the Queen.
Maesters study a variety of scientific pursuits, and when they graduate from their training, they’re usually assigned to a castle or holdfast to serve its lord. Just like the Night’s Watch, the Maesters serve the realm rather than any particular family or political allegiance. If a castle is taken by a new lord during a battle, for instance, the Maester is expected to serve that new lord — even though he may have advised the previous lord in fighting his new leader.
As for what exactly Maesters do, their duties cover a pretty wide range of things. Maesters train ravens to send long-distance communications throughout Westeros, and they’re responsible for that network. They also have knowledge of medicines and herbs, so they act as doctors, helping with everything from broken bones to childbirth. Maesters are the most knowledgeable folks in Westeros, so they’ll often tutor a lord’s children in a variety of subjects.
Maesters wear a big chain around their necks that signifies what they’ve learned and mastered during their time in Oldtown. Each link in the chain is forged of a different metal, standing for a different discipline. For instance, gold is the link for accounting, silver is for medicine, and black iron is for ravenry.
In general, Maesters reject seemingly fantastical concepts like magic, but they do have a link for the “higher mysteries” made of Valyrian steel. Those “higher mysteries” do include magic — there are so many references to magic in the histories of the “Game of Thrones” world that many Maesters still feel compelled to try to explore the idea even if they generally assume it isn’t real.
With Sam in Oldtown, he’ll have a chance to dig into the Maesters’ archives to learn what he can about the White Walkers. With any luck, he’ll learn something useful in defeating the creatures. But so far, it’s been a struggle to get anyone in Westeros to believe the White Walkers are coming, and as smart as the Maesters are, they don’t seem too willing to buy into those legends and myths.